Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash of Canada intervenes as Kobe Bryant berates Metta World Peace for committing a foul during their NBA game in Los Angeles

Lakers continue to build chemistry, move into the playoff picture with win over Bulls

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s plenty more work to be done over the regular season’s final 18 games. But for the first time all year, the Lakers can look at the standings and see themselves as an official part of the playoff picture after Sunday’s 90-81 win over the Bulls at Staples Center.

The Lakers are now 33-31 on the season, and sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz.

In Friday night’s win over the Raptors, the Lakers needed several shots that were both miraculous and heroic from Kobe Bryant down the stretch to come back and get the overtime victory. They didn’t need much from him offensively in this one, however, thanks to a balanced attack and a strong third quarter from Steve Nash, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the period.

Bryant didn’t even reach double figures in scoring until he hit a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining in the third quarter, which pushed the Lakers lead to 15. He finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists, while five of his teammates finished in double digits.

The Bulls are not known for their offense, and struggled to score in this one. Chicago shot a dismal 37.1 percent from the field, and went just 4-16 from three-point distance. But the defensive effort from the Lakers was stronger than usual, led by an increasingly more active Dwight Howard, whose 21 rebounds helped L.A. dominate the Bulls on the glass for most of the contest.

Chicago was able to cut a lead that once reached 18 points down to eight with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Lakers responded by scoring the next five points, while holding the Bulls scoreless for the next three and a half minutes.

More important than this single game victory and the temporary playoff position that it earned the Lakers is the improved chemistry the team is showing on the court. The communication was constant in this one defensively, with players giving their all on loose ball and rebound opportunities, while the body language overall was genuinely positive. The change from the way these guys interacted with each other in the opening months of the season is both noticeable and substantial.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bumps along the way — Bryant was furious with Metta World Peace at the end of the first half, after he committed an offensive foul while Bryant was dribbling down the clock to get off a final shot. He yelled at Metta as the two walked back down the floor, but all was forgiven later when Bryant was seen with his arm around his teammate on the bench early in the fourth.

The extent of how much Howard can improve from a health standpoint as the Lakers close out the regular season, along with the amount of chemistry the team can continue to build during that time will largely determine its postseason fate.

Winning can cure a lot of issues, and certainly helps the team-building a lot more than it hurts. At least after Sunday’s victory, L.A. can now, if only briefly, officially see itself as part of the playoff picture.

JaVale McGee, Shaq beef on Twitter

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JaVale McGee hasn’t liked Shaquille O’Neal targeting him, and the Warriors center sure disliked the above video.

Due to the All-Star break, there was no fresh content for Shaqtin’ A Fool. So, TNT ran that spoof video with Shaq mocking McGee lowlights.

After Golden State beat the Clippers, McGee and Shaq engaged on Twitter:

And attention was received by all.

DeMarcus Cousins on talking to Kings: ‘It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response’

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, center, is applauded by Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive, left, and Vlade Divac, Kings vice president of basketball and franchise operations, after he was presented with his NBA All-Star jersey, during ceremonies before playing the Chicago Bulls in an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Vlade Divac said the Kings wouldn’t trade DeMarcus Cousins, and then two weeks later, once they dealt their franchise center, the general manager said, “character matters.”

Though he’s clearly trying to move on, Cousins, now with the Pelicans, can’t escape how he was treated in Sacramento.

Cousins, in a Q&A with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Is there any part of you that wants to talk to Ranadive or Divac?

Nah. For what? It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response. For what? And I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve been there through all same types … I was there with [coach] Mike Malone’s [firing]. I’ve seen how they operate. I know what kind of answer I will get anyway. So, what is the point?

When did the Kings tell you that you wouldn’t be traded?

A week before the trade. The sick part about it is that Vlade came in my house with my agent [Jarinn Akana]. We sat in my theater and just talked. That was maybe three weeks ago. We sat there and [he] told me what moves he wanted to make. All of that. I just didn’t understand.

I got a text from the owner right before I went to All-Star. He was asking me about a player, how I felt about him and making a move. The owner! When it happened, I was just in shock. I didn’t understand.

The Kings might differ on how well they informed Cousins of their intentions as the trade deadline approached, and it’s perfectly reasonable of owner Vivek Ranadive to consult Cousins while his front office explores a trade.

But the Kings stated often enough that they wouldn’t trade him, including offering him a designated-veteran-player extension, that he can rightfully feel aggrieved.

The Kings torched Malone after dismissing him, and Cousins has already gotten similar treatment. There’s little reason for Cousins to expect anything other than a rocky relationship with Ranadive and Divac from here.

Hawks suspend Dennis Schroder for reporting late after All-Star break

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks dealt before the trade deadline with an eye on winning this season.

That mission will start without their starting point guard, Dennis Schroder.

Hawks release:

Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schröder has been suspended by the organization for one game without pay for failure to report to the team on time after the all-star break. He will serve his one-game suspension tonight when the Hawks host the Miami Heat.

“Dennis has played an important role for our team and been a significant contributor to our success this season,” President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We are disappointed that he did not return to the team on time and we have discussed this with him. We look forward to him rejoining the team in Orlando tomorrow night.”

Schroder missed Wednesday’s practice, and Budenholzer attributed it to a travel issue. The guard corroborated that with this Instagram post:

FINALLY GOT MY VISA & CAN GET BACK TO WORK !!! @fg_pa @atlhawks #iBelieve #DS17 #FG #TeamBros #TheGoldenPatch

A post shared by Dennis Schröder (@ds17_fg) on

Ultimately, the responsibility was on Schroder to get back to Atlanta. Extenuating circumstances might have offered him a reprieve, but the Hawks clearly believed he didn’t deserve a break.

Wizards rookie changes name from Sheldon McClellan to Sheldon Mac

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: Sheldon McClellan #9 of the Washington Wizards dribbles in front of Sean Kilpatrick #6 of the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Wizards trading for Bojan Bogdanovic pushes Sheldon McClellan even deeper on the bench.

Actually, “McClellan” is now off the team entirely.

Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

Yes, the player formally known as Sheldon McClellan is now officialy Sheldon Mac. The 24-year-old returned to Houston, Texas over the past week and, with the blessing of his mother, changed his name.

Mac expects to have his jersey changed at some point and he will now be referred to in print as ‘Sheldon Mac.’ He said the reason was because ‘McClellan’ was a name he got from his father, whom he has no relationship with.

“I just added a little swag to it.”

If this makes him happier, I’m all for it.